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The limits of liberty

Many people today make liberty their primary concern. It is indeed a serious matter. I do not find equal attention given to the meaning of “liberty” or “freedom.” If liberty means the freedom of an individual to act without restraint, I think it is a concept of little merit. If I were left to pursue whatever fancy might strike me at the moment, I would think myself prey to desires and urges I could not account for. This seems to me an unfreedom.

Liberty must have a close connection to morality: I am free to do what is right, my duty, the good. In doing wrong, I am in chains, perhaps of my own making. Liberty is not conducive to a life of feckless ease. I have to justify, if only to myself, my actions with reference to other concerns; liberty is not self-justifying. I can’t help thinking a robust discussion of the meaning of such terms as “liberty” would be a useful supplement to our civic lexicon.

Gregory Chipps



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